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Biozentrum Lectures 2013

Functional aspects of telomerase on and off chromosome ends

Elizabeth Blackburn, Professor in Biology and Physiology in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of California, San Francisco
April 22, 2013, Time: 16:00, Hörsaal 1, Pharmazentrum, Klingelbergstrasse 50-70, Basel

Chromosome ends, called telomeres, are the DNA-protein complexes that protect the tips of chromosomes. The length attrition of telomeres serves as a unique and informative biomarker of human aging. More telomere erosion predicts worse risks for many age-related diseases and is thought to contribute directly to at least some of these diseases.

Through its activity, the enzyme telomerase can replenish telomeres as they dwindle down. To ensure continued healthy functioning of cells, in humans telomerase activity must be kept in a delicate “just right” balance, as mutations causing even quite small perturbations of telomerase activity cause high risks of various cancers. Furthermore, variants of the telomerase core protein that lack the capacity for enzymatic activity exist and are robustly expressed in normal and cancerous cells. Functional aspects of telomerase are under investigation and will be discussed.

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Professor Elizabeth Blackburn is the recipient of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of the molecular nature of telomeres. She pioneered the study of telomeres, the specialized ends of chromosomes, and of telomerase, the enzyme that replenishes the telomeres. She is currently the Morris Herzstein Endowed Chair in Biology and Physiology in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and Non-Resident Fellow of the Salk Institute. 

Prof. Blackburn received her PhD from the University of Cambridge in 1975 and did her postdoctoral work in Molecular and Cellular Biology at Yale University. In 1990 she joined the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the UCSF, where she served as chair from 1993 to 1999. Blackburn has been recognized for her contribution to the field of telomere biology with numerous prizes, awards, and honorary degrees, including the 2006 Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research and elections to the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Institute of Medicine. In 2007, Time magazine named her one of the ‘100 Most Influential People in the World,’ and in 2008 she was the North American Laureate for the L’Oreal-UNESCO For Women In Science. Further, she has held leadership positions in several scientific societies, including her recent tenure as President of the American Association for Cancer Research.